Most students begin their day in a familiar way; catching the school bus. We see them as a given—every school district has a complement of buses and drivers, and most students are eligible to ride them, depending only on geography. Free bus rides are seen as a given, and determined as a right by various courts over the decades.
That might be about to change.
In 2011, the Franklin Township school district decided to charge fees for bus service to try to balance their underwater budget, and then discontinued service altogether when the fees were determined illegal. Ever since, parents have been challenging the decision through the court system. In 2014, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the school was violating the state constitution. But on March 24th, 2015, the Indiana Supreme Court contradicted that.
Unanimously, the Supreme Court said that no part of the Education Clause required the school system to be the provider of transportation, and that it was not the responsibility of the court to make it so. Parents can continue to make their case, but now they must do so to lawmakers, to change the state code itself.
“It will inevitably require some families to make alternative accommodations, but it will not close the schoolhouse doors,” wrote Justice Steven David. He also referred to ‘the school corporation.’ His language is telling; this is a decision based in the idea that schools have to be financially prudent over prioritizing access.
How many parents work schedules that mesh neatly with school hours? Drop-off at nine and pick-up at three. What are their options? How about for students who go to child care before or after school?
Car pools have always been an alternative, but require significant parent organization and commitment, as well as predictable schedules, compatible working hours, and the upkeep of a car. Public transit sometimes has student discounts, but isn’t safe for the young to travel alone, and can take a lot of hours for a parent escort. A monthly pass for Franklin’s transit lines costs $25. That tallies up to $550 over a school year, for student and parent.
Franklin Township Community Schools are just a single district, in one city in one state. Many are concerned, however, that this significant ruling will set a precedent that other schools facing budget difficulties will be eager to follow.